Mortgages on Russian-owned aircraft leasing firm settled on day of invasion

Links exist between SB Leasing and AIB, Flynn O’Driscoll solicitors and EY auditors

All of the mortgages registered against aircraft worth hundreds of millions of euro by a Russian-owned leasing company based in Dublin were settled on the day Ukraine was invaded, company filings show.

The satisfaction of the 48 mortgages, some of which date back to 2011, and one of which is from January 2022, was registered by SB Leasing Ireland Ltd, a subsidiary of Sberbank, which is majority-owned by the Russian government.

Filings in the Company Registration Office show the satisfaction of the charges was effective from February 24th, the day of the Russian invasion. On the same day, the US introduced sanctions targeting Sberbank.

One source said the work on satisfying the mortgages had been under way for some time and it was a co-incidence that the work was finalised on the day of the invasion.

The latest accounts for SB Leasing, which has a registered address in Maynooth Business Campus, Co Kildare, show that it banks with Sberbank Switzerland and AIB in Dublin.

The company's solicitors in 2020 were Flynn O'Driscoll, of Lower Mount Street, Dublin, and its auditors were Ernst & Young (EY), Dublin, according to the accounts.

They show that SB Leasing incurred legal and professional fees that year of $278,086 (€253,033), and had assets subject to operating leases of $1.16 billion.

EY comment

When asked for a comment on the issue a spokesperson for EY said: “We cannot comment on specific client matters. We are evaluating existing and new mandates in light of new sanctions and a rapidly evolving regulatory landscape.”

During 2018, the company ordered new aircraft from Boeing that were to be delivered over the 2021-2023 period, according to the accounts.

The Irish aircraft leasing sector, which includes Irish-owned businesses that have leased aircraft to Russian operators, and Irish-based businesses that are Russian-owned, has been hit by the sanctions announced in the wake of the attack on Ukraine.

A number of the companies are subsidiaries of VEB, or Vnesheconombank, a Russian financial development institution on which the EU has placed sanctions.

VEB has a number of substantial Irish aircraft leasing subsidiaries, including some that are owned by way of companies in Luxembourg.

In its statement on sanctions last week, the European Union said that VEB's chairman, Igor Shuvalov, (who is also the subject of sanctions) is directly appointed by President Vladimir Putin and "takes instructions directly from him".

Defence industry

VEB plays "an active role in the diversification of the defence sector of the Russian Federation, and has projects with defence industry companies", the statement said.

VEB has given loans to businesses in Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, and considers it a "priority region" as part of the effort to integrate it into the Russian Federation, it said.

The latest accounts for a number of these VEB subsidiaries show they used the services of Flynn O’Driscoll solicitors and Ernst & Young.

An Irish company with another sanctioned Russian parent is involved in the leasing of a single Gulfstream business jet, public filings show.

KRP Aviation Ltd, with an address at the Flynn O'Driscoll offices on Lower Mount Street, Dublin, is a subsidiary of state-owned Russian Railways, which has been hit by EU and US sanctions.

The latest accounts filed for KRP, which are audited by EY, show that last year it renewed a lease agreement with Russian Railways for the jet, covering the period 2021-2026, for a total of €385,000.

The jet, a Gulfstream GV-SP, is registered in the Isle of Man under the Irish company’s name. The Dublin accounts say that the Russian company has the right to buy the aircraft for $1,000 (€910) if it chooses to do so.

Invitations for comment from Sberbank, VEB and Flynn O’Driscoll had not been responded to at the time of going to press.

Colm Keena

Colm Keena

Colm Keena is an Irish Times journalist. He was previously legal-affairs correspondent and public-affairs correspondent